Sports

# ASK IRA: Is Josh McRoberts assured of a rotation role?

SunSentinel.com
Sun Sentinel writer Ira Winderman addresses the Heat's issues of the day.

February 5, 2016

Q: Ira, does Josh McRoberts fit? Erik Spoelstra hasn't used him as much as before. Does it have something to do with the new offense? -- Phil.

A: The new offense has more to do with actions by the wings, of which McRoberts is not one. But it very well could have something to do with the overall downsizing of the NBA. Spoelstra said he held McRoberts out of the second half in Houston because of the matchups, and there weren't many favorable size matchups against Dallas, especially with the Mavericks opting to go with Raymond Felton in place of Chandler Parsons (a confounding approach by Dallas, considering the investment, even with Parsons' defensive shortcomings). To his credit, Spoelstra goes with what works and with who works. And with Justise Winslow and Luol Deng playing well at the moment, there does not appear a need to force-feed McRoberts into the mix. In fact, with Hassan Whiteside back, it will be interesting to see if Amar'e Stoudemire gets some of the minutes that otherwise might have been set aside for McRoberts. Here we are, almost at the All-Star break, and there still is plenty to sort out with this rotation.

Q: How long is this team going to continue playing by depending on Gerald Green as its sole long-range shooter? How far can they go like this? It is very strange of Pat Riley to stand still. There is not one reliable shooter out there in the basketball world? -- Masoud, Tucson,

A: Who says Pat Riley is standing still? The trading deadline is not until Feb. 18. And then there is the buyout deadline, where the likes of Joe Johnson, Kevin Martin or others could shake free. And we still don't have definitive word from the Heat of when Tyler Johnson will be back. As it is, it is not as if the Heat have much to offer. And Erik Spoelstra has not shown keen interest in playing a player who is only a shooter. Say what you want about Gerald, but the reason he got into this position in the first place was his early-season commitment to defense.

Q: Hi, Ira. What are the chances Pat Riley looks to facilitate a trade at the trade deadline in order to get near to or under the luxury tax cap? -- Robert, Miami.

A: With so much in play, with Tyler Johnson's status in question, with the seedings such an unknown in the East, I think the only consideration that could (or should) be given to the tax at the trade deadline would be if a taker could be found for Chris Andersen. Otherwise, this has to be a time when you're solely in it to win it.

February 4, 2016

Q: Hi, Ira. Could you see Hassan Whiteside, when he gets fully back from injury, still come off the bench to avoid chemistry issues with starting lineup? He could have more of an offensive role with the second unit, which is what he wants anyway, and can help keep leads with his defense. -- Jared, Miami.

A: No way and no need. First, there remains a limitation on the minutes that can be expected out of Amar'e Stoudemire at this stage of his career. In fact, after this string of starts, I think the Heat might want to give him some time off. And I also could see the Heat giving Amar'e time off before the playoffs. Beyond that, I think you would lose Hassan as a player if you made him play off the bench on a regular basis. I'm certain he would view that as a demotion. I'll be curious to see how Erik Spoelstra approach Friday in Charlotte, which also is the area where Hassan was raised. He has spent years working to become an NBA starter. Send him to the bench, and you could send him into a funk. Now, utilizing him off the bench for another game or two certainly could be within reason, especially if there is a concern about foul trouble, which did become an issue with Hassan wind up with five fouls in 17:21 in Wednesday night's victory in Dallas.

Q: Could moving Goran Dragic to a sixth-man role, allowing him to run his own unit, benefit the Heat? -- Giancarlo, Hollywood.

A: Now this I actually think makes some sense, especially with Tyler Johnson out and the Heat having to ride the wave that is Gerald Green, who had a very quiet 0-for-2 night against the Mavericks, although he was big on the boards with seven rebounds. I actually believe this is some of what Erik Spoelstra is trying to get to when he pulls Wade early. But not starting Dragic still does not solve the riddle of making it work with Goran and Dwyane late in games. And, as with Whiteside, it is a move very difficult to sell to a veteran, and perhaps one management would have a difficult time selling after going big with Goran's free-agent contract. Instead, as with many of the ways Spoelstra filters through his rotations, expect him to get to the most optimal combinations as often as possible.

Q: When Luol Deng can contribute on offense, the Heat are pretty tough to beat. -- Carter.

A: Which often comes down to the Heat allowing Luol to be involved in the offense. The Heat did that on Wednesday night, particularly when they set up Deng for his huge late 3-pointer. But those 15 points were not by accident, they were by the Heat working toward a system, two years after Lu's arrival, that finally accentuates his game. It is the same approach that had allowed Justise Winslow to flourish in recent games. Often times, players work because the system works. This is one of those times.

February 3, 2016

Q: I just don't see how Miami is going to beat the top teams without a real shooter. Unless Miami has a real shooter, it doesn't matter if Hassan Whiteside is there or not. A really good offensive team will just outshoot Miami. -- Will.

A: There are several reasons why the Heat need a shooter. It became evident during Tuesday's loss in Houston, as the Rockets double- and triple-teamed Bosh, as they packed the paint and cut off the Heat's driving lanes, that there was minimal respect for what the Heat could offer from distance. The Rockets' approach was to let Gerald Green shoot all the 3-pointers he wanted. For as much as the Heat have done to upgrade their offense, with better spacing and movements, there is only so much you can do against a defense that has five players all with at least one foot in the paint. The shooting question lingers.

Q: This Goran Dragic-Beno Udrih playing together lineup was getting destroyed. Why would we need to play this lineup? -- Morris, New York.

A: Because Tyler Johnson is out and there clearly is only so much confidence in Josh Richardson. This is what small ball forces you to do. It forces you to dig deep into your perimeter rotation for ambulatory wings. It is why it will be curious to see if the Heat try to ride out Johnson's two-month absence without a move, or whether they bring in another wing to at least have options against the types of lineups that the Rockets threw at them on Tuesday and other teams will go to going forward. It has to be more than Gerald Green or bust beyond Justise Winslow off the bench.

Q: Could Briante Weber be a Heat option with Tyler Johnson out? -- JRock.

A: For the uninitiated, Weber is the former Virginia Commonwealth guard whose senior season was cut short by a major knee injury. He then went undrafted, was signed by the Heat during training camp, and now is playing for the Heat's D-League team, available for any NBA team to sign. When healthy, Weber has conjured visions of Patrick Beverley, a dogged fullcourt defender who also is capable of hitting outside shots and playing with a high motor. But for the Heat to add Weber, it would require eating a salary can cutting a current player. For the moment, Weber still is working his way back, hardly ready for an NBA grind. But he could be the type of player the Heat sign late in the season in order to maintain his rights going forward. I might even sign him sooner, but it's not my luxury-tax money that is in question.

February 2, 2016

Q: Tony Wroten, Dorell Wright, Ben Gordon, Jamal Crawford, Jimmer Fredette, Marco Belinelli, Nate Robinson, Will Bynum, Jordan Farmar, Andre Dawkins, . . . -- The IraHeatBeat Tweeps.

A: Thank you. I appreciate all the names and suggestions in the wake of the announcement of Tyler Johnson's shoulder surgery, and am sure the Heat do, as well. Except. Except that short of a trade, adding one of the aforementioned free agents (and apologies to those who offered names I missed), it would mean having to cut one of the 15 players already on the roster and eating that salary. Because of the timing of Johnson's surgery, the Heat are not eligible for a roster injury replacement or even an injury exception for their salary cap. And what we still don't know is how committed the Heat remain to lowering or eliminating their luxury-tax obligation. The basic deadline for such accounting would be the Feb. 18 trading deadline, since the tax is computed on the roster that remains at season's end. There also is the possibility of negotiating a buyout by the March 1 deadline for playoff eligibility elsewhere, but no one on this roster truly fits that criteria. As for trades, I can't envision the Heat making any deal for a player who has more than this season remaining on his contract, due to their salary-cap position for the 2016 offseason. So what most are seeking to know is whether the Heat would eat the salary of Jarnell Stokes to add another wing. As it is, the Heat still have Dwyane Wade, Gerald Green, Luol Deng, Justise Winslow, Goran Dragic, Beno Udrih and Josh Richardson in their perimeter rotation. That's seven options right there, likely more than can comfortably be utilized, anyway, considering the need to get minutes for Chris Bosh, Hassan Whiteside, Josh McRoberts and Amar'e Stoudemire in the power rotation. To me, the decision whether to add another perimeter player comes down to two questions: 1. Can Gerald Green be trusted as the primary shooting guard off the bench? 2. Is Josh Richardson a serviceable NBA player at this stage? I think you work through those two questions and then go from there.

Q: I am a little confused on why the Heat waited so long for Tyler Johnson to have the surgery. It seems like it should have happened over a month ago. -- Sam

A: Because the last time he came back from a brief rest he played well. The thought was the Heat could massage it through the rest of the season, then address it once Johnson was re-signed in the offseason. It is an approach that Johnson preferred, as well. But once the Heat recognized that the absences would be multiple, that's when it became apparent that something needed to be done.

Q: The Heat should just cut Chris Andersen and sign Tony Wroten. -- Six.

A: That's a lot of salary to eat when it comes to the tax. And Birdman is one of the players who previously sacrificed so he could remain in the Heat mix. It might sound logical, considering Jarnell Stokes could have more upside and actually is available to play now, but I don't think the Heat would just cast Andersen aside.

February 1, 2016

Q: Hi, Ira. With Amar'e Stoudemire's solid play in Hassan Whiteside's absence and Josh McRoberts back, how do you see the big-man rotation being in a game where everyone is healthy?  -- Max.

A: I could see it coming down to matchups on a game-by-game basis, depending on Hassan Whiteside's health and what happens at the Feb. 18 NBA trading deadline (I have no insights there regarding any potential moves, but that could sort out some factors). I still could see games where Amar'e might not play at all. There also could be games where McRoberts doesn't fit. But I think what you also might see is less of Luol Deng at power forward than we've seen to this stage this season. That doesn't mean we won't see Deng and Justise Winslow on the court together, just that we might see Winslow more at backup shooting guard, with Gerald Green possibly getting squeezed.

Q: Gerald Green is becoming a liability. l still love him on this team, but we really need another shooter. -- Shyra.

A: Gerald was fine on Sunday against the Hawks, even as the lone Heat player with a negative plus-minus. I think the greater concern is how much time Tyler Johnson might miss. If Johnson needs his shoulder surgery, a procedure that could have him out two months or even longer, then I could see wanting to add another shooter, possibly in place of Jarnell Stokes' roster spot, in order to have insurance from deep. Such a move could possibly come at the buyout deadline, when the likes of Joe Johnson or Kevin Martin could possibly be added to the mix. There is no issue here with Gerald Green as instant offense off the bench. But there also is nothing wrong with insurance in case Johnson become unavailable

Q: What are your thoughts on Justise Winslow's play as of late? Is it sustainable? -- Benjamin.

A: Why wouldn't it be? The Heat finally have found the right places for Winslow, which often takes time to determine with any player, let alone a rookie. And the rebounding and defense have been there from the start. He is looking more and more like a playoff player, which is a lot considering he is a 19-year-old rookie.

January 31, 2016

Q: Amar'e Stoudemire should stay in the rotation. He offers smart, effective minutes. -- Stephen.

A: And it will be curious, when everyone is back, because I can't see Erik Spoelstra, or most any coach, regularly going more than 10 deep. So if you work off the primary starting lineup of Hassan Whiteside, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic, locked into the next wave of reserves is Justise Winslow. Beyond that you still have Gerald Green, Tyler Johnson, Beno Udrih, Josh McRoberts and Amar'e Stoudemire. So that's basically six set rotation players, and then five more to choose from. You could wind up seeing DNP-CD games along the way from Udrih, Stoudemire and even Johnson, just to make the pieces fit. If everyone is healthy, it likely will leave Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen as spectators, and Jarnell Stokes and Josh Richardson possibly back in the D-League for additional seasoning.

Q: The Heat play better pace-and-space with Amar'e Stoudemire and Josh McRoberts. I like Hassan Whiteside, but this team moves better without him. -- Chris.

A: First, a quality team plays more than one style, even during the course of a game. There is no reason the Heat can't offer a certain style with Hassan in the game, and another when he is out. What you should want is versatility, which also affords you the ability to match up to the opposition when the opposition is playing from a position of advantage. This also is one of the reasons why Hassan likely will not be a 40-minute player for this season's Heat. There simply are too many options with the roster, when whole, to explore. But just because the Heat have won these past three in a row without Hassan doesn't mean they also can't thrive when he also is part of the mix. That is what coaching and game-planning is all about.

Q: What do you think about the Heat trading Josh McRoberts for Marco Belinelli. Word is the Kings are entertaining offers. The salaries aren't far apart, and it would address shooting issues. -- Ben.

A: I still believe the Heat will try to ride it out with Gerald Green and Tyler Johnson as their 3-point shooters, since they're already ingrained in the Heat's defensive precepts. And if McRoberts is dealt by the Feb. 18 trading deadline, it would more likely be for a player with an expiring contract, to further create offseason salary-cap space.

January 30, 2016

Q: If the Heat can play like this every game, this season just got interesting. -- Will.

A: More to the point: If the Heat can get and stay healthy, the season was always going to be compelling. Now you not only have Goran Dragic and Josh McRoberts back, you have Amar'e Stoudemire playing at a level that did not seem possible based on the first two months of the season. The next part of this equation will be meshing it all together. Again. For example, if Tyler Johnson's shoulder issue is not a long-term concern, then what happens to Gerald Green and the perimeter rotation? And if Stoudemire merits continued minutes, then what happens when Hassan Whiteside returns? You can't play a 12-man rotation on a regular basis. But what you can do is find the combinations that work best at different junctures of the game. I'm not sure anyone had Beno Udrih and Amar'e Stoudemire as rotation components for this team in February and beyond. Yes, the plot thickens.

Q: Based on Justise Winslow's play and Erik Spoelstra's new, more dynamic, Swiss Army Knife role for the rookie, would a healthy Josh McRoberts make Luol Deng easier to move? -- Ben.

A: I don't see how McRoberts would impact such a situation, because Josh is only a four (OK, and maybe a five in today's NBA, but not against Greg Monroe). But replacing Deng with McRoberts in the rotation would not address the need to have another player available to defend small forwards. If anything, the return of McRoberts could factor into what the Heat might do with Hassan Whiteside going forward. Deng showed his value at the end of Friday's victory, including his huge 3-pointer. The Heat do not win that game without Deng. I'm not sure he is someone you would want to sacrifice at the trading deadline. You are a better team when you can play both Deng and Winslow, including the two of them together at times.

Q: Are we putting too much stock into what San Antonio and Golden State are doing? Yes, motion offense and small ball are being duplicated around the league, but what is San Antonio without Kawhi Leonard and what the heck is Golden State without Steph Curry? These are elite players in their primes with excellent surrounding ensembles. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade are past their prime so they need a Kawhi-Leonard type of player to take a load off them and that’s what Heat Nation is hoping for in Justise Winslow. Take away the stars and what are the top teams? That goes for every single playoff team.  Just an observation because we make a big deal about Golden State and San Antonio’s offense and Cleveland this and that, but you can only go so far without the stars to facilitate them. Heat simply need an in-their-prime star to take the torch and shooters. That's it. -- William.

A: That's it? That's a lot, the type of things it can take a long time to fall into. But I agree that you build systems around star players. What makes those teams unique if they have a lot of star players. So how do you build an elite system? Get a lot of star players. To a degree, that's what the Heat showed in Friday's victory in Milwaukee, that if you have a lot of players playing well, it makes the process all the simpler. Friday, the Heat had a lot of players playing well.

January 29, 2016

Q: There is a recent article that talks about Golden State's goal is to make 310 passes per game. The Warriors aren't concerned with assists. The thought is if players get enough touches throughout the game, assists, shots and ultimately wins will come. Jim Larranga, coach of UM, said he is instilling this principle with the current UM team. San Antonio and Golden State won the last two NBA Finals.  Do you think the era of "Be Like Michael," "LeBron," "Kobe" and "Wade" is over? And should the Miami Heat try to move more toward a motion offense? -- Stuart.

A: The approach is about more than a system. It also is about personnel. You need a lot of quality passers and a lot of quality shooters. I'm not sure at this point in their career you change who Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are. Wade, as he's shown the past two games, can often be at his best when the ball starts and stop in his hands. Bosh works at his best when he stops the ball, sizes up the situation, works from there. I think if you're talking about such a style change, you're also talking about a roster overhaul. I think that only comes after this current roster moves on. Right now, as shown by the past two games, the Heat are at their best when Wade and Bosh are the focus. I'm not sure there are as many interchangeable parts on their roster as with the Warriors or Spurs. In the NBA, and in basketball in general, you play to the strengths of your best players. Now, when you're blessed with "five best players," that's another story.

Q: You know, in hindsight, I'm glad this LeBron James saga is gone and over with in Miami. Who wants their organization run by a bunch who are on the coattails of LeBron and know nothing about running a business? I'd rather we rebuild then to have his power-hungry people trying to tell Micky Arison and Pat Riley how to run a franchise. Just be done with it. The name on the front and the culture are bigger than the name on the back. You're never bigger than the game. -- Julio.

A: I've heard plenty of that in recent days, and it certainly is easy to say after the fact, when he's gone. But someone like yourself sounds like someone who also realizes just how much LeBron meant to the Heat (and means to the Cavaliers) in terms of on-court success. "Culture" is fine, but so are parades. I'm not sure that many, if not most, Heat fans wouldn't have preferred the team hand over a bit more if LeBron could have been retained (although I doubt that was the overriding factor in his decision to leave). But if that's not you, then more power to you with and principles.

Q: With Josh McRoberts get back for this season? -- Victoria.

A: There had been times when I had my doubts, but the fact that Josh has been working out so publicly on this trip, and with Erik Spoelstra actually mentioning the possibility, I think Josh is at the point where he'll be back sooner rather than later. For nearly a month, the Heat had said nothing about a return. Now the possibility has been on the table for over a week. So, soon.

January 28, 2016

Q: I am confused. I hear two contradictory reasons for why this team is not succeeding: 1. The Miami Heat have the wrong pieces, players, and they do not fit together and 2. The Miami Heat have not found the best or most efficient way to utilize the players they have. I personally believe it is both. Your thoughts? -- Stone, Miami.

A: I'm not sure they have the "wrong" pieces, but mostly not enough of a specific type of piece, namely shooters. Add those into this mix and a lot of the other concerns go away. I know I've mentioned a lot about "fit," but I also know that talent eventually wins out in this league. This mix, with these players, if healthy, should be somewhere in the mix for homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs, which certainly is possible. The real push will come after the All-Star break, when the schedule evens out. By then, there has to be a definitive blueprint for this mix. You don't want to be experimenting over the final two months of the season.

Q: Ira, what does your gut tell you: Do the Heat make a move before Feb 18th, or wait for the buyout deadline in hopes of landing a Joe Johnson or Kevin Martin type? --Gabriel, Denver.

A: The buyout deadline would be the simplest means of adding a shooter, just by slotting in someone at the minimum salary. But a lot has to happen for that to even become a possibility. First, a player or a team or both have to sacrifice salary. Then the player has to line up a landing spot that fits his goals, which could include a desire for enough playing time to reestablish his market for free agency. At least with a trade, you're guaranteed of landing someone. But the Heat almost always pursue buyout candidates and I would expect this year to be no different.

Q: Hey Ira, I think more and more as the years go by we'll probably hear more disturbing rumors about LeBron James in a Heat uniform. But wouldn't be in Miami's best interest to avoid bringing anything like that up in the near future? -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ga.

A: Absolutely, which is why the Heat have been distancing themselves from this entire episode. The last thing you want to do as a team pursuing free agents is to trash a player on the way out. The more you accentuate the differences with a player, the more you create doubts about a potential fit. The best way to chase Kevin Durant certainly isn't to trash the player you want him to replace.

January 27, 2016

Q: Ira, the last two games have shown us that we do not need to pay Hassan Whiteside the maximum and we also do not need Josh McRoberts and Chris Andersen. We all can see how Dwyane Wade is taking advantage of a not so-crowded-paint area. Chris Bosh could play as a decent center. -- Ommidy, Sydney, Australia.

A: And the last two games also have been against an injury-ravaged Bulls team and a downtrodden Nets team. Having more quality players never hurts. I'm surprised that you didn't write off Goran Dragic, as well, since he did not play in either game. I think, instead, what games like these show is how to get to various combinations at various points in games. But the past two games have also shown how delicate it can be to get any sort of rest for Wade or Bosh in the fourth quarter. That's why you need a depth of talent over the course of a season. It's also why you need to figure out how to make combinations work.

Q: I don't want to jump the gun here but the last couple of games it seems like Justise Winslow has been more engaged on offense, even improving the consistency of his jump shot. Do you think this is a lasting trend or a flash in the pan? -- Chris, Lake Worth.

A: I think it's all about learning what works and what needs work. He also has been playing at different spots on the court, more often as a facilitator, and has gotten back to moving without the ball, which has created easier scoring opportunities. Such ups and downs are typical for most rookies. What is impressive is he hasn't allowed the uneven offensive moments to impact his defense.

Q: I still think Miami is going to make the playoffs by default, but Miami might end of getting Cleveland sooner than they expected. -- Will.

A: The only way the Heat get Cleveland in the first round is if they finish eighth in the East. And while the schedule and injuries have been brutal recently, the schedule takes a turn for the far better after the All-Star break. So at the moment, it's all about staying above water, and getting healthier. That makes these past two games a step forward. Based on their recent play against Toronto, I'd say avoiding No. 7 also would be prudent, with the Raptors making themselves look second to one at the moment, and that's with DeMarre Carroll yet to make his mark in Toronto. Any other matchup in the East should give the Heat a first-round chance, whether it is against Chicago, Atlanta, Washington or just about anybody else. All of that said, the playoffs hardly are a given, with the way Boston, Detroit and even Indiana have the personalities of teams that give no ground.

January 26, 2016

Q: Remember when these Heat-Bulls game used to mean something? It seems like a long time ago. -- Marc.

A: Totally disagree. Monday was a significant step for the Heat, or at least could become part of a significant step for the Heat. No, not because beating the Bulls means as much as it might have previously, but because when you’re on a four-game losing streak and still without your starting point guard and starting center, any victory is a big victory. And this wasn't just Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh getting it done. It was Justise Winslow making big plays at the end and coming up with big rebounds. It was Amar'e Stoudemire helping keep the Heat within striking range. It was the type of moment you can build on, and the type of moment you have to build on. Tuesday, it's the Nets in Brooklyn. Friday in Milwaukee, the Heat will be entering off a two-day break while the Bucks will be completing a back-to-back. The bottom line is both these games that end this five-game trip mean plenty, and could go a long way toward validating Monday night as meaningful. So, yes, Monday was a big deal. Was it the start of something better? That's what we'll see soon enough.

Q: This is why Justise Winslow should start. -- Ben.

A: No, this is why Justise Winslow should finish. But what it shows is that in the right starting mix, Winslow could eventually fit in a Luol Deng type of role. But that doesn't have to be right now, and unless the Heat deal Deng before the trading deadline, which is certainly possible, there is no need to rush the process. But Deng will be a free agent in the offseason, likely beyond the Heat's reach if Wade, Hassan Whiteside and perhaps another player are signed into space. No matter, what you want to see from Winslow is growth, and Monday was another significant step forward.

Q: The Heat rank No. 29 (second slowest offense) out of 30 teams for offensive possessions per 48 minutes this season.  Surprisingly, the Cavaliers rank No. 28. Tyronn Lue is addressing this and wants the Cavs to play faster. Shouldn't the Heat do the same, considering they signed Goran Dragic for $85 million? Also, if we are going to lose, at least fans should be entertained. -- Stuart. A: I don't know about the "if we are going to lose" part, because I am sure that has absolutely no place in the Heat's' thinking, as Monday clearly showed. But, yes, after such a commitment to Dragic and what he is and who he is, it is somewhat confounding for the Heat to have reverted back to such a limited pace. But Dragic's teammates have to show they're willing to play that way, that they want to play faster. I'm not sure that is the case. This very much is a team that literally prefers to walk the walk. Still, Monday showed that when push comes to shove, they can get it done that way, as well. Yes, they only scored 89 in Chicago. But to them what mattered most is the Bulls scored only 84. January 25, 2016 Q: Ira, It's obviously a poor time to judge the Heat given all the current injuries, but what the heck. I believe they will make the playoffs. Getting into the second round is a reasonable goal. Nevertheless, I do see them at a crossroads, given the age and diminishing top-end potential skills of so many players. The question driving decisions is how reasonable is it to expect them to get better next year or beyond? When I look at the current roster, I see at least six players, conservatively, who simply will not get better, including Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. The real crossroad issue is what is the core to build around? This team plus a max player in addition to Hassan Whiteside? Or to look to build the next core group? As a Patriots fan, Bill Belichick sets the standard for players' longevities. He is always ready to trade virtually anyone with a year or so left on that player's career. And while Pat Riley seems to be more loyal to Heat players than Belichick is to his, it's impossible to not have faith that he will make the moves "in the best interest of the team." -- Dick, Rhode Island. A: But the very "loyalty" aspect you mention is a big deal, considering how the Heat cast themselves as familial and different than other franchises. It is among the reasons I can't see them dealing Goran Dragic after the embrace they gave at his acquisition. As for Wade and Bosh, both are still close enough to All-Star level that they can't just be cast aside. The difference is Belichick always finds a way to make his roster work, constantly changing approaches to suit his talent. That is where I believe the Heat have to move. I still find it difficult to comprehend that there's not a more efficient way to utilize these players, this roster, before necessarily moving on to something else. Q: Dwyane Wade says he misses Goran Dragic, but when they are both on the floor he "hogs" the ball and does not allow the point guard to set the offense. If he does not get the ball, his body language says it all. The Heat will go as far as Wade allows them to go. He has to adjust and pick his spots, especially when most of the starters are playing. -- Leon, Miami A: Which is why it will be interesting to see how the Wade/Goran dynamic re-plays out when Dragic returns. This can't just be lip service from Chris Bosh and Wade about how much they have missed Goran. There has to be a tangible change and increase in the respect for what Dragic can accomplish when given the keys to the offense. Eventually the health will return. That's when the words have to turn into actions. Q: Not only should Erik Spoelstra be on the clock for his job, but Pat Riley, as well. Both have failed at their jobs. -- Stevan. A: And now exhale. What is needed is perspective, level-headed perspective. What were the realistic expectations for this team entering the season? I said second round of the playoffs. Anyone who said championship or even beating out LeBron James' Cavaliers was deluding themselves. So can this team still realize that goal of advancing beyond the first round? If that's accepted, then you move on with what you have, because any dramatic change at this point only sets you back to Point A, without much time to reset the table. The offseason is the best time to truly take stock. January 24, 2016 Q: Do these games show how much the Heat miss Goran Dragic? -- Michael. A: I think what these recent losses show is how much the Heat miss having a point guard. The lone victory in this stretch of seven losses in eight games came with Beno Udrih closing with 11 assists and no turnovers in Denver, a game the Heat were without Dragic and Dwyane Wade, a game the Heat closed with 26 assists and 14 turnovers. For as much as Wade handles, you still need someone to advance the ball, set the table. What the Heat have learned over this stretch is that Tyler Johnson is not a point guard, at least not at this stage of his career. And that's fine, that now they can at least move forward with that knowledge. And with Josh Richardson more of a shooting guard, as well, it could be time to add . . . a third point guard. Yes, they've been here before. But with Goran now likely out until the end of the week, having someone like a John Lucas III to help get the Heat through this rough patch has merits, because getting a victory or two out of Chicago-Brooklyn-Milwaukee would have plenty of merit. Lament what the Heat paid for Dragic in terms of contract and draft picks, if you will, but it came with the forethought to recognize the need of having an NBA-quality starting point guard. At this point, just having an NBA-able point guard on the active roster would be a place to start. Your outlook shouldn't have to come down to whether Beno Udrih plays or not. Q: Hi, Ira. I know about hindsight, nonetheless, didn't the Heat management know about Justise Winslow's shooting woes? Weren't there several more promising "good" shooters available with the 10th pick? Weren't they aware at the time of the draft that shooting was at a premium over defense, at least for this team? I am not a subscriber to the idea that it's easier to learn to shoot than to defend. To me hand-eye coordination, the basis for shooting, can't be learned. Whereas, with the proper guidance in technique and maintaining effort, defense can be improved substantially. -- Joaquin. A: I believe the selection came down to finding the most complete player. Yes, Winslow has shooting issues, but he also hit huge shots in the NCAA Tournament for Duke, has shown he can step up to meet the moment. And he even offered a look at the possibilities in Friday's loss in Toronto. I've been getting a lot of second-guessing about Winslow, but understand that the Heat were not alone in their view. Otherwise, the Celtics would not have been offering the boatload of draft picks they were in order to move up for Justise. When the Heat drafted, they were drafting for a player to complement what was in place. Justise, at the moment, is more complementary than a Devin Booker, even with Booker's shooting skills. I doubt Devin, who did attract Heat pre-draft interest, would be getting the ball in his hands nearly as much with the Heat as is the case for him with the Suns. And as even the most marginal of NBA fan appreciates, you cannot quantify a draft pick's career just three months in. In this case, as with just about every draft pick outside of the top three, it's a case of To Be Determined. Q: Has there been a season that Erik Spoelstra has gotten his team to overachieve its individual talent? -- Greg, Miami. A: His first, when he got the Heat back in the playoffs while relying on Michael Beasley? (Yes, I know, Dwyane Wade also was back to health.) Or even the first with the Big Three, that even through all the missteps they still made it to the NBA Finals. Look, this team does not change coaches at midseason in the Riley Era, and Pat Riley has yet to go outside the organization for a bench replacement. So I don't see this even as a debate at this stage. Let the season play out, then a reevaluation certainly could be justified. January 23, 2016 Q: The Raptors were getting to the rim at will, or else it was a drive-and-kick every possession for an open three. The Heat need Hassan Whiteside. -- Ahmad. A: It's fascinating, for all the conjecture of whether the Heat's defense is better without Whiteside (based on some advanced metrics), you could see times during the Raptors game where the perimeter defender was up tight on his cover, practically expecting a second line of defense in place. And while there have been questions late in games about Whiteside against smaller lineups and pick-and-rolls, he also makes the earlier stages of games easier for players such as Dwyane Wade, because there is someone there to clean up mistakes. This team has gotten very much used to playing with Hassan. If there is a move away from Whiteside at the trading deadline or in free agency, it could have a greater impact than some metrics indicate. An interior stopper helps make defenders look better on the perimeter, as well. Q: Can't Pat Riley sign a shooter to a 10-day contract? -- Jack. A: Actually, with Beno Udrih out for Friday's game, the Heat were on Friday were in position to add a 16th player beyond the NBA's 15-player limit. And while it might have been difficult to fully educate a newcomer, there was the option of signing John Lucas III, who was in camp with the Heat, out of the D-League, or even adding Tre Kelley from the Heat's D-League affiliate, which runs the same system as the Heat. As it is, the hope is that both Goran Dragic and Beno Udrih could be back for Monday's game in Chicago. Q: Are you surprised by the David Blatt firing? -- Martin. A: Nothing regarding a LeBron James-orchestrated team surprises me. And without a Pat Riley type in Cleveland, someone who has the resume to stand in final judgment, LeBron is going to get what LeBron wants. That said, LeBron also has the type of basketball acumen that his perspective cannot be disregarded. Remember, Blatt was hired before LeBron formally committed to Cleveland. If LeBron was signed first, it is likely the Cavaliers would not have gone for an NBA rookie in Blatt. So now LeBron gets the coach LeBron wants. January 22, 2016 Q: Ira, are the rash of injuries due to bad luck or a brittle roster? -- Matthew. A: You have to look at each injury individually, not collectively, even when they come in a wave. Luol Deng's eye clearly is an unfortunate break. Ditto for Chris Andersen and his tumble out of bounds against the Clippers after barely playing. As for Goran Dragic, he largely has been healthy his career, so it's not as if there are chronic muscular injuries. The same with Beno Udrih. As for Dwyane Wade, he spent much of the offseason working on the muscular element of his physique, yet now he has dual shoulder issues, so there certainly has to be concern about something that could linger. Then there are players and the issue of recovery. Josh McRoberts was out for the balance of the season after last December's knee issue and now has been out more than a month with a bone bruise. Similarly, Hassan Whiteside said in retrospect last season he wished he had played more through his hand injury and this time appeared to recognize, with a bit of prodding, the need to play through his knee tendinitis. So it will be interesting to see how much additional time he misses with this oblique issue. I think what makes it so dire is that it all is happening at once, and that's not even getting into Gerald Green's knee tendinitis. Q: I smell a Bosh game. -- Scott. A: Of which there already have been plenty of for Chris Bosh in Toronto. But many of those "Bosh Games" came when the Raptors were down and when the statistics didn't add up to victory. Bosh will need at least something alongside if his numbers are able to be translated into a victory. Dwyane Wade and at least one point guard would be a start. Q: Does Hassan Whiteside have a chance to make the All-Star Game as a reserve? -- Matt. A: I can't see how. First, coaches handle the voting for reserves and tend to favor veteran, multi-dimensional players. Beyond that, if the Heat are to have a second All-Star, which is not guaranteed, I can't fathom those coaches opting for Whiteside over Bosh, who is probably most deserving of all Heat players of an All-Star berth. Whiteside needs to first show more consistency, with as many coaches witnessing his uneven efforts as his breakout games. January 21, 2016 Q: I forget do the heat keep lottery pick this year if (when) don't make playoffs? -- Jeffrey. A: Same as last season: It is Top 10 protected in the upcoming lottery, and goes to the 76ers automatically if the Heat make the playoffs. So the Heat lose the pick if they don't exit the 2016 lottery with one of the first 10 selections, should they again not make the playoffs. But this also is the time to stop playing the waiting game, for one simple reason: The pick otherwise goes to the 76ers completely unprotected in 2017 if not conveyed by then. So if you think the Heat played with fire last year, when a one-spot drop in the lottery from their No. 10 seed would have cost the Heat their 2015 first-round pick, consider that if it is not conveyed this June then there will be absolutely no protection in 2017. Yes, it could be the No. 1 overall pick. Or No. 2. Or No. 3. If only by lottery luck (or un-luck), And yes, this is one of the picks the Heat conveyed to the Cavaliers in 2010 for the right to sign LeBron James to a long-term contract, a long-term contract that James opted out of with the Heat. What the Heat have to do is make any such concern moot, avoid a woe-is-we capitulation. This very much has to be one of Erik Spoelstra's finest motivational moment. Q: Is it time to try with Michael Beasley again? -- Morris, New York. A: No, been there, failed that. And how come it always comes down to the Heat taking a shot? Why have none of the other 29 teams over the past two seasons looked at his numbers in China and made a run? Look, I can appreciate how Michael provides the type of offense that Justise Winslow doesn't. But do you really want to take minutes away from Winslow at this stage for a stop-gap veteran? Plus, isn't Gerald Green supposed to be Beasley? So for all those pushing for Beasley to come in and ease the scoring and shooting concerns, my question would be whether you instead would be willing to cash out on Green? Q: It's the East. This thing is a long way from over. Pat Riley just needs a good shooting wing. -- Wesley. A: Exactly. And the Heat would be better off getting one sooner rather than later, to reconfigure and work on plays that maximize shooting (like the rest of the league). There are enough teams teetering that it should be possible to find one that shakes free. But you have to go out and get one, not wait for one to fall into your lap at the buyout deadline. But then, it could be too late, even in the East. January 20, 2016 Q: What grade would you give Erik Spoelstra? -- Bob. A: I've received plenty of these questions after grading the players on a curve at the midpoint of the season. I've also been accused of copping out by not doing the same with Spoelstra. My thought is it's easier to judge players because it can be pretty black and white on the court. Either they're getting it done, or not. And that's why I also included a second grade, grading on a curve, because many players are being asked to do things either beyond their game or things that constrain their game. If anything, I would give Spoelstra an "S" for stubborn. The Heat too often still rely on isolation ball and then Wade-or-bust at crunch time. And there still does not appear to be a willingness to hand Goran Dragic the reins to the offense, or to allow Hassan Whiteside to be a greater part of the offense. Then there are those times when opponents go on extended runs without lineup adjustments. But, as I mentioned in my midseason review, you also have to look at the way the roster is constructed and what Pat Riley has given Spoelstra. With more shooting (I know, I keep harping on that), it could open the offense for both Dragic and Whiteside, and also make it easier to stem opposing surges. Q: Maybe Dwyane Wade now will let Goran Dragic handle the ball when he comes back. -- Justin. A: Tuesday night showed just how much of a burden can be placed on Wade when Tyler Johnson is force to play point guard against a pesky defender like Michael Carter-Williams. That had Wade moving over as the primary ballhandler at a time when his sore shoulder probably would prefer less time on the ball. The interesting thing is the Heat dealt Mario Chalmers because of the notion that Johnson would play his minutes as the backup point guard. Now Beno Udrih clearly has emerged as the Heat's backup point guard. Perhaps this is an eye-opener the Heat need going forward. As it is, Johnson goes from Tuesday's challenge of Carter-Williams to Wednesday's challenge of John Wall. And if Wade is forced to ball handle in Washington on the second night of a back-to-back, well, more than just his shoulders will be sore. Q: It is time to acknowledge that this season isn't going anywhere. Between the salary cap, injuries, and mismatched players, we are, at best, an average team. That is no sin, particularly after all the success we have had. It would be a sin to do nothing about it. Now is the time, before the trading deadline, to do whatever is necessary to get below the tax penalty and prepare for the future. -- Steve, Dandridge, Pa. A: I can't envision, with this salary structure of both Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh earning$20 million and Goran Dragic close to that figure, the Heat simply writing off the season. The only reason I believe the Heat would "cash out" would be if they appear close to not making the playoffs and losing a lottery pick (No. 10-14) to the 76ers, as nearly was the case last season. Beyond the Cavaliers, I don't see any team that Heat wouldn't have a shot to beat in the East playoffs. So that basically means as long as the Heat avoid the No. 8 seed in the East, they at least could play into the second round. After last season, I think that would be considered a major step forward. As for the tax, even if the Heat are in the "repeater" tax this season, there is a good chance they could get out as soon as next season.

January 19, 2016

Q: Huge Heat fan here. In analyzing the Heat this season, I believe the offense needs to be run through Chris Bosh, not Dwyane Wade. We are better when we attack off of Hassan Whiteside's rebounds in the open court. We do not have the shooters to play against a set defense all game. We need to get Goran Dragic and our other athletes in the open court, such as Gerald Green, Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson to get easy buckets. The pick and roll in the fourth quarters with Wade and whoever needs to stop in the half court. We need to run our offense that gets us leads in the first half so we won't lose them in the second half. -- Paul, Detroit.

A: I've asked Erik Spoelstra about this and he says most teams change their approach late in games, when the defense tightens. But I do agree that the Heat can be far too predictable. And you're never going to have much in the way of weak-side action when you don't have the type of shooting needed to space the floor. But, in general, I agree about going before the defense sets. Spoelstra often can be seen exhorting his players. And yet, in the end, they walk the ball up, right into the teeth of the opposing defense. There needs to be a collective mindset of taking the ball and attacking, and not always waiting for the Wade bailout offense.

Q: I want to disagree with all who think the Heat is mix of mismatched pieces. While I do agree that sometimes injury, as it did on Sunday, exposes certain deficiencies of the team. I don't think we are as bad as our record suggests. The Heat's main problem is they never have the right combinations on the court to win games. -- Patrick, Hollywood.

A: But I think the lack of combinations is a product of the lack of five-game groups that fit together, especially when trying to get your five best players on the court. And when you're talking about "the right combinations on the court to win games," you're usually talking about having shooters on the court. The lack of shooters creates the lack of combinations, whether it is to play off the Wade/Whiteside pick-and-rolls or Dragic penetration.

Q: Ira, I've read most of the Q-and-A and still wonder, same as you, because you have asked Erik Spoelstra during many sessions after the games, why does he stay with the same players on the court for so many minutes while losing the advantages the Heat very commonly have in many games? He is too slow reacting to make changes. Why does he acts so conservative on these occasions. -- Manny, Miami.

A: Because how many times have you heard him use the term, "stay the course"? There is a belief that his units will stem the tide, push back. But, as stated in the answers above, the best way to bust a rally is to hit a few shots. With a lack of shooters, it makes the equation all the more difficult. It's not like inserting Justise Winslow or Amar'e Stoudemire is going to unlock the offense. So it often turns into Gerald Green Or Bust, and that is too much to be putting on Green.

January 18, 2016

Q: Why is the third quarter such a struggle every game? -- B.D.

A: Because this bench is not what we thought it was. Justise Winslow's lack of offense makes it all or nothing with Gerald Green. And there simply are too many big men on the roster at the expense of wing versatility, when counting Chris Andersen, Amar'e Stoudemire, Udonis Haslem and Jarnell Stokes. Beyond that, for all his D-League success, Josh Richardson simply isn't ready. The thing is, it might get even worse, with Dwyane Wade playing Sunday only because of all the other injuries. If this truly isn't all about the tax, then the Heat should consider shedding one of their excess bigs and adding a wing. Now. While Goran Dragic, Beno Udrih and perhaps even Gerald Green are out. Yes, the release of a Jarnell Stokes would hurt against the tax, but it also, in this moment of distress, might be what is needed. If Dwyane Wade is willing to push through shoulder pain, then shouldn’t the Heat be willing to push through tax pain. I'm not saying that the likes of Tony Wroten is the be all, end all. But this is a team that is fading, that has to live in the moment as another road trip looms.

Q: I tweet you all the time and never get a response. I'm a huge Heat fan. Please tell me help is on the way. We need a small-forward scorer. -- Zack.

A: I've largely, to this point, defended Luol Deng as the defensive element the Heat need in their starting lineup. But if his man is scoring, then his limited offense hardly compensates. And the issue is compounded with Justise Winslow as the first wing off the bench. It simply is too much all-or-nothing to be counting on Gerald Green to provide the offensive output from the wing when Dwyane Wade is not on the floor. I've come around on this one. Deng's expiring contract is the most logical chip the Heat can put into play for an offensive upgrade. It is one that has to at least be considered.

Q: I think it's time to move on from Erik Spoelstra. With this much talent, we shouldn't be 23-18. -- Rod.

A: I don't think we're at that point yet, because there still is a winning record. But this team, beyond the injuries, all too often (save for the late rally against the Nuggets) tends to look flat and listless for extended periods. And that is a coaching thing. The offense continues to plod at times. And the defense struggles against athleticism. But is that a coaching thing or a front-office thing? Can you coach in today's NBA without shooters? And can you defend without ample wings, when your roster is loaded with big men who don't fit in today's NBA? So what I would say is this: Part, if not much, of the problem is beyond the actual play on the court. The roster and the system are different than what is driving so much success around the NBA. So if you're asking about Spoelstra doing something to change the system -- to what? And if you're asking him to change the rotation -- with who? The roster is mismatched, which makes the approach appear disjointed. So with "mismatched" and "disjointed," where does that blame largely rest?

January 17, 2016

Q: Beno Udrih had a stellar game in Denver and looked like the Udrih of old against the Nuggets. Was this an example of Dwyane Wade's inability to play with true points guards like Goran Dragic and Udrih? If so, what should Erik Spoelstra do? -- Gabriel, Denver.

A: Beno is much more of a halfcourt, pass-first point guard than Goran. Against an opponent the Heat wanted to slow down, he made plenty of sense against the Nuggets, and certainly maximized his minutes. But your concern about playing alongside Wade is reasonable. As it is, Spoelstra has often worked to allow for separate minutes between Dragic and Wade to maximize the ballhandling of each. Finding such minutes for Udrih is unlikely when Dragic returns, but certainly possible in the interim. The ultimate answer could be getting Dwyane to play more often off the ball, as he did alongside LeBron James. But it's one thing to step aside for LeBron, another to have the ball taken out of your hands by Dragic and Udrih. If Udrih continues to play well, it could leave Tyler Johnson solely at shooting guard, and perhaps cut into the minutes of Gerald Green or Justise Winslow.

Q: Is the "old" version of Dwyane Wade now showing up? -- Jonn.

A: Why, because he skipped one game with shoulder pain? Anyone who expected much more than 70 games from Dwyane was deluding themselves. And getting some rest every now and then probably isn’t a bad idea, anyway. The key is that the absences don't become protracted and hinder continuity. As it is, as stated above, the Heat need Wade available to work through their roster-chemistry issues, which have yet to be resolved. But it would seem logical that getting Wade off the ball more often also could help extend his career. Perhaps that's where the Heat need to go with the discussion.

Q: Hassan Whiteside is just learning his position. I don't think he is yet a max player, but Pat Riley will keep him to reward him later. -- Victor.

A: In such a perfect world, the Heat would get Whiteside agree to the Early Bird salary of about $6 million for one season and then reward him with a maximum contract the following season. That world does not exist, not when an injury could rob him of the$80 million (at least) he otherwise could receive elsewhere. (Let alone that such wink-wink deals are exactly considered kosher under the salary cap.) No, Hassan is getting his money, a lot of money, in July. The will be no "later" in that equation. And the dollars likely will do the talking well beyond Riley's power of persuasion.

January 16, 2016

Q: My question is: Can Hassan Whiteside be emotionally stable enough to have an impact like this when he's not the go-to option? -- Simon.

A: I don’t think Friday night had anything to do with emotional stability. I do think it had a lot to do with Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic being out and Hassan realizing he was needed for more, had to do more, and had the opportunity to do more. When he is not the fourth option, it allows Whiteside to get more involved offensively. And as most will tell you, when a player is able to get engaged on one end, he tends to be more engaged on the other end. This goes back to the composition of this roster and how there are so many individual pieces capable of excelling, but not necessarily pieces the fit together. That part of the story remains untold with Wade and Dragic out Friday. What the Heat need is this Whiteside along with the best of Wade, Dragic and Bosh, if that is possible with all three on the court at the same time.

Q: Goran Dragic hasn't reached 11 assists as a Heat yet, I think. --Inshaan.

A: No, he has. And, yes, Beno Udrih came through with 11 assists and no turnovers Friday. But, as stated above, this was a unique situation, with Wade also out. Without Wade on the court, it allowed the point guards to control the offense. For Udrih, that meant making plays. For Tyler Johnson, it meant being able to play with an eye on the rim. Again, Friday was meaningful because of the result. But it doesn't mean it solved the riddle that is this roster.

Q: There's only a couple of more weeks until February. Do you think Pat Riley is going to make any moves, or do you think he is trusting this current roster? -- Will.

A: I think he'll act when he is certain of what he has with this roster. And this goes to the two previous questions and those answers -- from day to day, it is difficult to get a read on the possibilities of this roster. Lots of good pieces, but not the type of consistency needed to this point. With Dragic out for at least a week, and with Wade dealing with dual shoulder concerns, Riley may never get the type of read he fully needs when the Feb. 18 trading deadline arrives.

January 15, 2016

Q: Ira, I've been wondering about the fascination with Justise Winslow for a while now. I don't get it. He plays decent on defense but is a train-wreck offensively. He might help keep another player's average down by a point or two, but he does not score. The Heat missed on Devin Booker. -- Juan.

A: But the Heat always have been a defense-first team, and the thought is it's easier to teach a player how to shoot than how to defend. I know the counter is that defensive deficiencies can be overcome with hustle, but this also is a staff that has helped turn Dwyane Wade into one of the game's better midrange shooters. And Justise has shown that in big moments, including Duke's championship run, he can make big shots. I think right now, with teams playing so far off him, it has gotten into his head a bit. The rhythm shots have become hesitation shots. That's not to say a shooter and scorer like Booker might not be a better fit in today's NBA for any team. But I think there have been enough quality games from Winslow to give the pick the benefit of the doubt.

Q: This team looks beat down at the moment, and I've been saying it since Game 1: trade Hassan Whiteside or make a plan to do so. -- Bryan.

A: For the first time since such suggestions have been raised, I do believe there is a frustration within the locker room that could feed into the possibility. But remember, Whiteside, alone, has limited lure, with no Bird Rights accompanying him. And with his minimum salary, significant money likely would have to be included to balance a deal. Plus, if Chris Bosh is shifted to center then you might have to hold on to Luol Deng as your only logical replacement for Bosh at power forward. It's not as simply as simply being about Hassan and whether he fits the Heat fabric.

Q: Where had this Gerald Green we saw in Wednesday's first half been? That was the Gerald Green I was used to seeing in Phoenix. -- Will.

A: He's always been there, and you/re just riding the waves, as you do through the crests of Wednesday's first half and the depths of his second half. What you can't do is assume it will be there every night or even from quarter to quarter. That simply is not his career arc. What you need with Green is another bench scorer, for the nights, or even game segments, when Gerald is going the other way. That's not something the Heat have at the moment, but something they could continue to develop once Tyler Johnson gets past these latest shoulder issues.

January 14, 2016

Q: This sounds like a broken record, but why can't this team maintain double-digit leads? -- Sam.

A: Because this is a team whose offense and defense are predicated on precision, five men on a string, a team with a high basketball IQ. The problem is that there are only a limited amount of transition points and a limited amount of 3-pointers. In other words, nothing comes easy. And it's the same way on defense, where one mistake by one player can throw the entire process in disarray. Last season the excuse was injuries, and therefore a lack of continuity. This season, it could be simply not having enough Riley System players, which winds up leaving players such as Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade as frustrated as they were after Wednesday night's game. This team is not playing Miami Heat basketball right now. Now, for the first time, the reality might be that this team is not capable of playing Miami Heat basketball, that there simply are not enough players suited to this approach to render the approach effective. Yes, there are plenty of skilled players on this roster, but not necessarily players skilled in the essence of what the Heat require.

Q: The Heat need to make a trade before the deadline. They're getting exposed on both ends. They need to package Hassan Whiteside and Luol Deng. -- Cam.

A: But if the issue is a lack of cohesion in a system predicated on continuity, then that could only further set back any progress. It could be a case of identifying those who work in this system and moving forward from there. I'm not sure Whiteside will ever mesh with this approach. As for Deng, he fits the system, knows the system, can work in the system. But his game might not be where the Heat need. If a trade is the decision, then the Heat also should weigh the merits of staying married to this system.

Q: Was playing Hassan Whiteside off the bench an injury-triggered change or an intentional wrinkle? -- Jeff.

A: Erik Spoelstra wanted to limit his minutes, with Hassan dealing with the patella tendinitis that kept him out Monday against the Warriors and last week against the Pacers. He clearly also was not himself in the games he missed in the interim. It didn't hurt that the Clippers were without DeAndre Jordan. Spoelstra said Jordan's absence did not factor into the equation, but I'm not so sure. Hassan Whiteside is a starter in this league, for someone. And Hassan Whiteside also has a temperament that would consider any type of reserve role a benching. He'll be back in the starting lineup soon enough, perhaps even Friday in Denver. What the Heat have to do is get him back to the high-intensity we saw last season and at times this season, as well.

January 13, 2016

Q: I have been a staunch supporter of Hassan Whiteside.  However, if he’s not going to impose his will on a regular basis, the Heat should not offer him a max contract. His numbers aren't bad, but was I wrong to expect more? Before the start of the season, many (including myself) were making the case that Whiteside was comparable to Andre Drummond. -- Rich, West Palm Beach.

A: First, the climate around the team has changed, with Chris Bosh back, with Goran Dragic in his first full season with the team, with Dwyane Wade again healthy, with Justise Winslow and Gerald Green injected into the mix. So don't get caught up in statistics. Each player arguably could boost his individual statistics, but at the cost of the greater good. So some of the numbers from Whiteside, most notably scoring figures, probably can't be sustained at Drummond-like levels. That just is not how this team is built. But what can be there more often, what should be there more often, is the intensity and passion that so often was on display from Whiteside last season. Whiteside showed last season he could sustain such energy and effort for weeks and months. But now he is being asked to do it for a full season, against defenses now focused on his presence, through injuries. This season and these next few months stand as the ultimate test for Whiteside's sustainability. See we wait. And we watch.

Q:  The NBA has gone away from slow lumbering big man without range. Chris Bosh is best suited to play center. No longer are the days where Bosh will be outmuscled on most nights. -- Yuansi, Miami Beach.

A: Yes, he is, because most NBA centers now are power forwards, and because the game often has been distilled to one big man and four wings, at least when the game is in the balance, That's what this season is about, getting the definitive read on what works and what doesn't, as the next major free-agency period approaches. When it came to Bosh's free agency in 2014, the Heat literally were down to mere hours to decide whether go all-in. Now there are months to mull, which means the opportunity to take stock of every option.

Q: Amare Stoudemire and Chris Andersen on the roster doesn't help if the way to win is small ball. What do you think? -- Carl, Kapaa, Hawaii.

A: I think that small ball is more than carrying two, or even a few, extraneous big men. It is a commitment throughout the roster to ball movement, outside shooting, the ability to easily switch on the perimeter defensively. It is a complete and total mindset embedded into a roster built with such a design. That is not how this Heat roster is designed. Such a switch can't come this season for the Heat. But it could going forward.

January 12, 2016

Q: The Heat's offense looks more fluid when Hassan Whiteside is not in there. Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have room to operate. -- Francis.

A: I not only received plenty of these during and after the loss to the Warriors, but almost was expecting more. The mood swings on Hassan Whiteside from this fan base is remarkable. First, with Whiteside it is defense first, which also happens to be the Heat's mantra. So if it is about getting stops, and then securing the rebound to end the other team's possession, Whiteside is a net gain on that end. And when it comes to getting "relief" baskets, Whiteside can help with his alley-oop finishes and offensive-rebound putbacks. But you also can make the argument that Chris Bosh is best suited to play center in today's NBA. With Whiteside it comes down to this: When he is imposing his will, playing with the force he did in those games last season against Chicago and Boston, when he is active on every play on both ends, he is a terrific talent, one who makes your team better. A lot better. But it has to be often enough that the other questions don't creep in. This season, there have been too many times when the doubts have had legitimacy. The only one who can end the narrative about lingering questions is Hassan, himself.

Q: This team is frustrating. Two steps forward and two steps back. The tougher schedule will catch up with us. It could get ugly. T.M.B.

A: Which is why you can't let games like the one in Utah slip away, when the Jazz were so shorthanded. Because now, on this trip, to even go .500 over the six games, you not only have to beat Denver, but find a way to squeeze out a victory against the Clippers or the Thunder. Mostly, you have to stay healthy. You could see how much Tyler Johnson meant to the Heat with his performance against the Warriors. Now you need to get Whiteside back, as well. It will take everything and everyone the balance of this trip.

Q: The Heat should trade Luol Deng for Ryan Anderson. Deng is a very good defense-first player, glue guy, decent 3-point shooter, etc. But he's not going to space the floor. If you platoon Anderson and Justise Winslow you get spacing or defense depending on the matchup. -- David.

A: It's all about preference, coaching preference. And I still think, right or wrong, the Heat's preference remains stops over scoring. With Deng and Winslow, it's stops squared. The Heat could have added more 3-point shooting, but instead appear content to rely on Chris Bosh, Tyler Johnson and, maybe, Gerald Green.

January 11, 2016

Q: Ira, first of all, if healthy, there is no reason not to assume Hassan Whiteside won't continue to improve his game. My second point is that I cannot fathom the Heat letting Whiteside walk without getting something in return. -- Chet.

A: I get this question about Whiteside more than any. If you don't want him to walk without getting something in return, then you likely have only two choices: offer him a full maximum contract in the offseason or deal him (as part of a package, because of his low salary and lack of Bird Rights) by the Feb. 18 trading deadline. So the question now is this: Are you prepared to commit a full max to Whiteside and then hope he commits to taking it in July? Because answers are expected here, I would think long and hard about what to do over these next six weeks. If there is any consistency, I probably would commit to paying whatever it takes, simply because of all the draft picks the Heat have passed on to others. It's not as if there will be any other pipeline for youth, except unearthing yet another Whiteside (and what are the odds of that?).

Q: When are you going to wake up and begin to realize that Dwyane Wade isn't who he once was? Take a look at his stats. How consistent is he? Don't give me some rhetoric about when and how he shines. You've been a Sun Sentinel employee for years, surely you could see what I see. Don't conjure your own dreamy intellect to the fans who write you. Little do they know you're assessment on the team should be disregarded. -- H.P.

A: OK, then. For those who choose not to disregard: This has become Erik Spoelstra's greatest challenge, and one he can offer even less perspective on than the one you choose to ignore here. I can't fathom that Spoelstra prefers some of these late-game shots Wade has chosen, especially when he is off like he was Saturday in Utah. But as with Kobe Bryant with the Lakers, working with a franchise icon is one of the greatest challenges in coaching. Spoelstra has to come to a compromise with Wade just as Gregg Popovich has with his stars in San Antonio. The problem is Spoelstra is not Popovich. But Pat Riley is. That influence, even from the front office, potentially could go a long way in this process.

Q: Something has to be in the works to try to improve this team's chances of making and advancing in the playoffs. The time is now. You have to live with what the Big Three can bring (Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Goran Dragic). You probably have to keep Gerald Green and Tyler Johnson because of their instant energy and more positive than negative play. Justise Winslow is a good defender but his shooting ability needs a lot of work, so for now he is somewhat one dimensional. Hassan Whiteside is a key to defending the lane, rebounding and at times the primary inside scoring presence. That leaves everyone else on this roster in play to get the shooting, both perimeter and mid-range that this team clearly lacks. -- Michael, Miami.

A: I think in a roundabout manner you're asking me if the Heat should put Luol Deng in play. Based on the Heat's salary structure, he would be the most likely linchpin to a deal. Yet he also offers the type of veteran savvy that could be essential in the playoffs, and, at least at the moment, is one of the Heat's better outside shooters.

January 10, 2016

Q: This team needs to trust Goran Dragic in crunch time. You can't just use him in the first half and then defer to Dwyane Wade after. -- Ahmad.

A: You can say all you want about Dragic, about deferring, about staying in his lane, about sacrificing. And none of it makes sense for the reason that this is a player the Heat acquired at the cost of two potential lottery picks, while paying a near-maximum salary. That does not sound like someone you ride hard early and ask to take a back seat later in games. You will never, ever get a straight answer out of the Heat, because they are in no position to offer you one, but the ultimate question is: If you knew this was the way Dragic was going to be utilized, would you have made the same trade, offered the same contract? The Heat, of course, will say yes. They have to. They have no recourse. But considering the cost in terms of draft picks and salary, there had to be more envisioned. Had to. Accepting that, the next question becomes whether it is possible for this staff, this system, this roster to maximize Goran's possibilities. Tick. Tick. Tick.

Q: I love Dwyane Wade and he is the best Miami Heat player ever. But I don't understand, why does he continue taking shots when he clearly knows that he is having a bad night? Why not move the ball or keep passing to guys like Chris Bosh and Goran Dragic who are having good shooting nights? -- Gago, Los Angeles.

A: Because the very confidence that can produce nights like Friday in Phoenix for Wade can also produce nights like Saturday in Utah. That's where a coach has to step in, as one of the most difficult challenges of his job, and get the ball moving in other, more productive directions. Yes, Dwyane is always one shot away from something special, but sometimes there are better, in those moments, options than Dwyane. If he's getting to the basket, that's one thing. But jumpers often can best be left to others.

Q: I'm starting to see more and more that Hassan Whiteside isn't looking as elite as we all thought. Whenever the opposing team has a legit center, especially in these recent games, Whiteside is getting outrebounded and alley-ooped on, etc. I think Whiteside is good, don't get me wrong. But I don't think he may be worth as much as everyone expects when free agency hits -- Earl, Jersey City.

A: And I do not believe the Heat will go to the max with Whiteside for that very reason. I believe there is an envelope tucked away somewhere with a number on it. If Whiteside can get more and chooses to take that more elsewhere, then the Heat move on. But I also wouldn't overstate these recent games. Playing through pain is a lesson all players have to deal with, and one Hassan is working through right now.

January 9, 2016

Q: Hassan Whiteside is as good as gone. He doesn't want to play for a coach who doesn't value him. -- Morales.

A: First, I would have done exactly what Erik Spoelstra did Friday, turn in other directions late. Hassan simply was off his game, whether it was his knee tendinitis or just one of those nights. Erik Spoelstra's job is to put his best combinations on the floor. It was hard to imagine Hassan, the way he was playing, being part of any of those combinations Friday. I am sure that Erik would have preferred an active, aggressive Whiteside in some of the minutes Amar'e Stoudemire played. But early foul trouble got in the way of that. If anything, I think Hassan should have been appreciative that Spoelstra turned in another direction Friday, especially considering the outcome, What we need to see next from Hassan is how he performs when he is dealing with nagging injuries, as is the case with this knee tendinitis. Because there are higher expectations on max players, if that is what Hassan aspires to.

Q: I would imagine the Heat are comfortable with their decision to draft Justise Winslow over Devin Booker and have zero regrets. For the record, Booker was 6 of 17 Friday. -- O.G.

A: And Justise was 2 for 4 and the Heat won, so, yes, he made the more significant statement Friday in their first matchup. But I still believe life could be easier for the Heat with additional outside threats. There were reasons the Suns went zone amid their comeback Friday, and among the reasons was the Heat's perceived lack of outside countermeasures.

Q: Who in the world is this person you keep mentioning named "McRoberts"? -- Aura.

A; I've been getting this in many forms regarding Josh McRoberts. As with any injury, I'm not a doctor, and the Heat aren't releasing medical records, so the only option is to wait until the all-clear is sounded. Basically, it has to be that way with any injury. What I will say, however, is that Josh has the most unique playing style of any player on the roster, and that requires an adjustment for everyone else on the floor, if only to be ready for any pass at any angle at any time. So for all the questions about when Josh will return, the concern now is a ticking clock, with the rest of the roster moving toward the type of continuity you want to have established going into the second half of the season. It will be interesting to see when Josh returns, exactly in what regard the team holds his possibilities, when it comes to the possible disruption of the current continuity. Then again, it's not as if teams don't trade for players in January and February, with the resulting required adjustments. At least he now is beginning light workouts, as he did Friday in Phoenix. So there's that.

January 8, 2016

Q: Is the time right to start thinking about life without Dwayne Wade? It's looking more and more like this is Chris Bosh's team. -- Noah.

A: Until, of course, Wade goes on one of his extended scoring binges. Then the questions will be about Bosh's inflated contract. Such is living in the moment. What the Heat need, with LeBron James still at the top of the East standings, is both Wade and Bosh at their best. The current mix won't work if the Heat become any single player's team. It has to be a collective effort. And it also has to be more than just Wade and Bosh. Part of the problem is that when games are close, the Heat too often go to a two-man Bosh-Wade game on one side of the court, to the detriment of others who could contribute. We're approaching midseason and this remains work in progress, as appears to be the case with most non-LeBron teams in the East.

Q: Hassan Whiteside has made a great leap in the past year, but this summer he really needs to bulk up to control position in the paint and prevent opposing centers from doing so. Your thoughts? -- Joel.

A: I see it more as an issue of disposition, whether he has that consistent aggression needed to play in the post, or whether he will continue to meander. With him, I think it's more mental than physical. And that's a concern, because a maximum contract will mean somebody paying him $250,000 per game whether he shows up at the top of his game or at something less. Consistency still is a concern. Q: Michael Beasley played better defense his last stint here than Gerald Green currently is playing, and was far better of a floor spacer than Luol Deng currently is. On top of that, he brought more consistent scoring than Chris Both. His game complements Goran Dragic. -- Ben. A: And this is with the Heat having won three of their past four. And yet, I'm not quite ready to insert a punch line here, because if Luol Deng is dealt by the trading deadline, either to save against the tax or as part of a package with Whiteside, then Beasley's name is sure to surface yet again. January 7, 2016 Q: Get rid of Beno Udrih. Get Goran Dragic out in open court. Stop giving Hassan Whiteside the ball in the post. Bring in a shooter. -- Paul. A: But how do you really feel? OK, let's go step by step in reverse order. While some might note that the Knicks, with their three 3-pointers on Wednesday night, had only one more than the Heat, that misses the point with the Heat's 2 of 17 from beyond the arc (11.8 percent, aided by Gerald Green's conversion at the final buzzer). When you think back to all those rallies against the Heat this season, how were they accomplished? By loading up on threes. The Knicks didn't need to force threes; they were ahead most of the game. But not having 3-point shooters is like not having a passing game and trying to overcome a large deficit in football. The Heat's fullback approach makes it all the more difficult in such situations. Friday, they'll see Devin Booker in Phoenix, which at least creates pause. And a Suns team that converted 19 3-pointers in Wednesday's victory over the Hornets. As for Whiteside, we first have to figure where he stands with his knee tendinitis. But I agree with the initial approach of letting him get his off offensive rebounds, running in transition and alley-oops. As for Dragic, you can't run alone. Remember, they gave up two potential lottery picks to the Suns. Forget the contract (which everyone continues to harp on); remember those picks. You can't mortgage your future for a player and then not adapt to his game. As for Beno, he mostly has been steady, but he is not the type of defender that Mario Chalmers was. Now, when there is a need for backcourt defense, the Heat are especially limited. Q: Instead of the Heat trying to create separation from the other teams in the standings, they continue to play down to the competition, -- Shad. A: Because maybe that's who they are, too, a team with a record inflated by so many home games. We'll see whether that continues on this trip against Phoenix, Utah and Denver. But, more than that, we'll see how the Heat measure up in the games against Golden State, the Clippers and Oklahoma City. Q: Was Wednesday a game that Hassan Whiteside should've gotten going more? He looked lost coming out to the perimeter and was muted when guarding Robin Lopez. -- Eric. A: First, we have to see how much he was limited by his knee tendinitis. Then we have to see whether he is the type of player who can play through discomfort. But he does still tend to float through certain games. That is a concern when his free-agency asking price could be$250,000 a game.

January 6, 2016

Q: I find it remarkable that an undrafted player out of the D-League last year and a 19-year-old rookie are playing big fourth-quarter minutes, even into overtime, and coming up big for a team notorious for veteran-heavy lineups. Add to that a center fresh out of the D-League last year who has NBA-leading statistics and a couple rookies on the bench who are posting "Player of the Month" stats in D-League cameos and suddenly a "win now" reputation is looking more like a major rebuild. Eat your heart out Sam Hinkie and a round of applause, please, for a coaching staff and scouts that are the silent heroes, who rarely get the credit they deserve. -- Jack, Fort Myers.

A: So I guess that leaves it up to me to translate. The undrafted player and 19-year-old who played late Monday were Tyler Johnson and Justise Winslow, who have been playing with confidence (Johnson) and maturity (Winslow) beyond their years. The center, of course, is Hassan Whiteside. The D-Leaguers you reference, Jarnell Stokes and Josh Richardson, might be stretching your point. But I do agree that this team's developmental staff, for years, has been ahead of the curve. I still think this team remains very much in win-now mode, but the presence of pipeline talent also could ease decisions down the road. To a degree, this is about the only way you can succeed in the NBA with a pair of \$20 million players, in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, with roster value elsewhere. Johnson, Winslow and Whiteside have been just that.

Q: I think the rest of the season comes down to health with the five starters, plus Tyler Johnson, Justise Winslow, Gerald Green and either Beno Udrih or Josh McRoberts. -- Brian.

A: It always comes down to health, which is why the Heat found themselves almost sympathetic to the Wizards' plight on Sunday night. Almost. It is the reason the Pacers again are imposing, with Paul George back. And it is the reason the Heat have been able to move closer to continuity. In the NBA, health is everything. Right now, the Heat are about as close to whole as possible, save for the curious absence with Josh McRoberts. The key, of course, is being healthy when the games mean the most, which still could have Erik Spoelstra exercising caution with his veterans as the schedule grows more compact and grueling.

Q: When the ball touches many hands it is harder to predict for the opposing defense who is going to attack the basket. Is this the type of play Erik Spoelstra wants to develop for the second part of the season? -- Borut, Gorizia, Italy.

A: It's the type of play he has wanted to develop for every minute he has served as head coach. It was fascinating listening to Spoelstra before Sunday's game in Washington, almost beaming about having seven players at or near double figures with their scoring averages. It also is the best way to assure enduring success, eliminating the concern of a single, dominant scorer having an off night or being injured. When the Heat share the wealth, the results have been greater riches in the standings. Sometimes it's just that simple.

January 5, 2016

Q: Ira, you can't say the Heat played great Monday. But you can say they played hard and they played together. That was great. -- Morris.

A: It was a special night, and for many reasons beyond finding a way to win when shooting a season-worst .378 from the field. First, they found a way to not only overcome the absence of Hassan Whiteside, but also the reality that there isn't a legitimate backup center on this roster. Then they found a way to come back from 18 down, after it had happened all too often against them. But mostly, even when it wasn't pretty at the end, when there even was a late 24-second violation, they stepped up to make the defensive stands needed, and get the rebounds that were necessary. These are moments when players grow for even bigger moments. To me, the victory was just as much about Tyler Johnson and Justise Winslow as Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. What Monday showed was that on the second night of a back-to-back, amid fatigue, the Heat's young players could serve as the foundation for the team's leaders to build upon. There now is a perimeter support system for Wade and Bosh. That might have been the biggest takeaway from Monday night, wayward shooting and all.

Q: Can we start calling Dwyane Wade one of the Top 10 shooting guards in the NBA again? From what I'm seeing, he is moving back up there. -- Will.

A: I never said he wasn't. The concern was how he would handle situations like these back-to-backs. He was sublime in last week's back-to-back, against the Pelicans and Magic, and then again over the past two games, especially against the Pacers. It was interesting what Erik Spoelstra had to say after Monday's game, how Dwyane is putting in three hours of court work for every hour on the court. I'm curious if he'll be able to keep that up when the schedule becomes more compact on the road. But, so far, so good. And Monday certainly was a turn-back-the-clock moment, or moments.

Q: Was that the old LeBron James play at the end of regulation against the Pacers? -- Gilo.

A: It certainly looked like it, and it brought back the memories of when Frank Vogel decided to play without Roy Hibbert in that previous LeBron playoff sequence. Heat-Pacers is special no matter the stakes or time of year. Monday was epic, if not artistic. This time I think the reason Vogel has to look himself in the mirror is his fourth-quarter technical foul. As someone who has been through so many of these, he has to know better in those situations. He did, on the third try, get a good look for Paul George at the end. I would have fouled before George got to the 3-point line, but Justise Winslow said the Heat opted to play without fouling.

January 4, 2016

Q: You think Erik Spoelstra finally found the right rotations after weeks of playing the rotation lotto? -- Will.

A: But that's the thing, to use a "Spoism," he stayed the course when so many outside of the team were calling for a lineup change. And he methodically cycled through various rotation possibilities to get where the Heat stand today. Sometimes, it takes trial and error. And sometimes you have to go through your trials and make your errors early in the season, when there still is time to recover. To me, that is the shame of this schedule, that the Heat had to eat through so much of their home schedule while sorting out the rotation. It's interesting, how Spoelstra is criticized amid losses for the same moves he is praised for when the Heat are winning. The fact is the canvas of the NBA has changed even since the start of the season, with so many more challenging Eastern Conference games, and with so many teams downsizing their lineups. What Sunday showed is that you don't know who you are until you have all your pieces at your disposal, with Justise Winslow returning against the Wizards. The questions now with the rotation roulette is whether the wheel will totally have stopped spinning by the time Josh McRoberts makes it back.

Q: I'd trust Hassan Whiteside's 15-foot against Josh Smith's outside shot any day. Harsh, Ira.-- C.P.

A: That's not the point I was making. The point I was making is that sometimes players get away from what they do best when they are able to achieve something beyond the parameters of their game. Yes, Hassan has shown he can make an outside jumper. But, most, if not every player, on the court with him can do that better. So unless it's at the end of the shot clock or the end of a period, those are opportunities best left to others. Similarly, those who are capable of making wild shots still should defer to Whiteside if he is open at the rim. With this, and really any, roster, it works best when players are limited to what they do best. I have no doubts that Hassan can hit the occasional jumper. I just know that those shots are best left to Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic or Luol Deng. That is all.

Q: The Dolphins, Panthers and Heat all won Sunday. Who owns this town? -- Sandy.

A: I never fully got this argument, that you have to make choices about what sport defines your market. You don't see it with the Bruins, Celtics, Red Sox and Patriots. You don't see it in New York. Or Chicago. There would be nothing wrong if South Florida fans have to debate whether to attend a Heat or Panthers playoff game on the same day. Winning is good, no matter how the scoring occurs.

January 3, 2016

Q: Hey, what's your thoughts on Dwyane Wade coming off the bench on a regular basis? I know Friday him playing off the bench wasn't by design. However, offensively we had one of the best games of the season. It clearly helps Goran Dragic to push the pace and stack him with another potential shooter along with Chris Bosh and Luol Deng. Wade leading our second unit playing against other second units would be beneficial to his health and we'd have a major increase in bench production. You could still play him at the end of games with the starters, as well. -- Taylor, Tazewell, Va.

A: The Manu Ginobili plan has been debated in this space for months. But the approach only works if the player is at peace with the idea. From every indication from Dwyane, he does not see himself at that stage of his career yet, especially in a contract year. I do believe, however, that the notion will be broached by the Heat at the bargaining table next summer, especially with the emergence of Tyler Johnson and Justise Winslow, and with the possibility of Gerald Green sticking around for another season. Your last point is the most cogent, that not starting does not mean not finishing. Look, the Heat clearly got a team that was out of sorts playing on the road on New Year's in the Mavericks. But Dwyane's dehydration did open the window on the possibilities. And it could ultimately prove that best way to maximize Goran's possibilities, as well. But it is an approach that likely will be addressed in the offseason, when a specific plan can be put in place. Still, by playing Wade with the second unit it would take him away from Hassan Whiteside, with whom he has excellent chemistry.

Q: Ira, I know he never blows your socks off, but I really like Beno Udrih. Yeah, he won't have one of those explosive games like Mario Chalmers would give every once in a while, but he also doesn't make those costly mistakes 'Rio always would. I think he's been a great addition and the team should keep him for the year. Your thoughts? -- Sean, Pompano Beach.

A: First let me put my socks back on. I agree that Beno has been somewhat of a revelation. And your point speaks exactly to what he is, a player who buys you time when others are injured, in foul trouble, or off their game. But he also is not essential. And if he can be excised as part of maneuvering to get below the tax, I still believe that is a direction the Heat would move. But I'm not sure what Beno is doing now exactly has outside teams knocking down the Heat's door. So you might get your wish of him sticking around, if only by default.

Q: Ira, too much is being made of the Heat's mismatched pieces. The truth of the matter is we are a team with a lot of new pieces coming together and it will be a little wonky the first season. Remember, the first season of the LeBron James Era we were 9-8 and people were saying the same thing. LeBron and Wade didn't fit initially, but we made it work over time. At the end of the day, Pat Riley finds the most talented players in a given position whether they fit or not, and makes them adapt. Remember how awful the Cavaliers looked last year during LeBron's first year back? It took them a while to come together. New teams take time to come together, period. -- Alain, Miami.

A: I take issue with the notion of this as a "new" team. Wade, Bosh and Whiteside all were together for months last season, as were Dragic, Wade and Whiteside over the final two months. Yes, pieces such as Gerald Green and Amar'e Stoudemire have been added, but that is business as usual in today's free-agency NBA, where supporting players are reshuffled every offseason. As for the addition of Justise Winslow, that is nothing more than a team adding a draft pick, which, again, is NBA business as usual. This is a team that was structured to win this season, based on the one-year contract offered \to Wade and the addition of veteran free agents. So that expectation remains legitimate.

January 2, 2016

Q: What a shocker. You give Hassan Whiteside more touches, have Dwyane Wade play the Manu Ginobili role off the bench, and although it wasn't Justise Winslow who replaced Wade in the starting lineup, the youth, athleticism and defense that Tyler Johnson brought gave us a great start. These are adjustments fans have been proposing for a while now, but unfortunately will be short-lived. -- Ben.

A: Let's not overstate a one-game sample. I think the most dramatic change Friday was the amount of plays, and even sets, run for Whiteside, and how he maximized the opportunities. I think Erik Spoelstra has been working through a series of options, including one where Goran Dragic can play more often in attack mode, as he did during the outset Friday. But the Dallas game also was never particularly close, so we still don't know how it would have played out at the moments of truth, whether Whiteside would have played as a closer, whether Dragic would have been given run of the offense. But I do agree that these serendipitous moments can create though of possibilities down the line.

Q: With the exceptions of the Warriors and Spurs, every team has struggled with consistency, fourth-quarter letdowns, rotation holes, injuries, coaching questions, underperforming highly paid players, energy lapses, ball movement and lineup balance. Welcome to the NBA. As the Eastern conference strengthens, parity emerges, and schedules even out, we need to be reminded that the Heat are not alone in their struggles. On balance, a healthy Heat roster and a key trade can fix a lot of things. I still like our chances, so let's calm down and avoid panicked moves. -- Jack, Fort Myers.

A: It is nice to get the opportunity to balance some of the doom and gloom in this space with greater perspective. But to counter such hope, because there are so many contenders for the East's eight playoff spots -- at least 13 by my count -- that also means that those that lag in coming around might find themselves too late to the seeding party. We're two weeks away from the midpoint of the Heat's schedule. The time to take stock is now. And I'm not so sure about any cavalry coming to the rescue, because I'm not sure there are many (if any) tangible trade pieces.

Q: Is anybody going to tell Gerald Green to stop shooting low-percentage shots? Not only is he missing them , but he throws off the chemistry of whatever lineup is out there, -- Earl, Jersey City.

A: Such is the compromise you make for his scoring binges, like the one on Friday, which also have been essential in victories. The issue is that Green has emerged as the primary scorer with the second unit, which is probably a greater role than envisioned. With more balance in that second unit, it would be easier to ride the waves with Gerald. Friday it was a wave that led to victory.

January 1, 2016

Q: I have to agree that this team, as we have played, is no more than a 42-win team at best. Our rotations frequently have only one player to guard and there is no way to win like this. -- Patrick, Hollywood.

A: And the only way that changes is if the leaders come together, stoke a passion that puts aside all personal agendas and maximize the starting lineup. Because you are correct, the success of second unit has come down to whether Gerald Green is scoring. And that's way too much reliance on a player who is a journeyman. This team's depth has been compromised by Josh McRoberts' fragility, Justise Winslow's learning curve and Tyler Johnson's recent absence. Unless the second unit comes around, the starters have to be in lockstep to a degree far greater than what is being offered at the moment.

Q: Erik Spoelstra said "obviously" there are positives going forward, but wasn't quite specific. ("Competitiveness" and "guys not making excuses" are cliche, and I'm not sure what are the obvious positives anymore, given their uneven play.) Amid the negatives, what do you see are the positives for the Heat or what exactly do they have going for them? -- Ann, Perth, Australia.

A: The positives are Chris Bosh's offensive consistency, the scoring bursts that Goran Dragic has been allowed to create, the growth of Hassan Whiteside as a fourth-quarter presence, the moments Dwyane Wade has flashed as a closer, the ability of Luol Deng to play as the perfect complement. The problem has been the lack of cohesion of those elements in the same game often enough. That's the rub, that there is enough in the starting lineup to mask many of the deficiencies. But the margin of error is so slight that it almost has to be perfect for expectations to be met.

Q: With Josh McRoberts out and Amar'e Stoudemire a sieve who gave up four layups against Memphis, you know that Chris Andersen wouldn't do that. Yet they won't pay. They want to save on the repeater tax. This team needed Dorell Wright, Willie Reed, Wayne Ellington. Blame Pat Riley, as well. -- Ahmad.

A: That's the question with Birdman, whether they are keeping him healthy so he can be moved in a tax-saving deal, although you would think teams would want to see what, if anything, is left. The Willie Reed decision was interesting because it only was for the minimum that the Heat wound up paying to fill out the roster, anyway. All along there has been a balance between winning and the tax. As I've said from the start, championship contention well could determine that direction. For the moment, this does not look like a team with the type of roster chemistry that is headed toward championship contention. But there still is time, with the trading deadline not until the third week of February. Perhaps the Heat are waiting until their West Coast trip to see if a statement about this season yet could be made.